Backgrounds of Operas



An opera in four acts

Sung in Italian with projected English supertitles

Libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa

English Version by Ruth and Thomas Martin


Based on Henri Murger’s novel, Scenes de la vie de boheme, a collection of vignettes portraying young bohemians living in the Latin Quarter of Paris in the 1840s

Premiere at the Teatro Regio in Turin on

February 1, 1896. Conducted by the young Arturo Toscanini.

First performance outside Italy was at the Teatro Colon in

Buenos Aires, Argentina, on 16 June 1896.

First performance in the United States was in Los Angeles on

October 14, 1897, and first New York City performance took place at Wallack’s Theatre on May 16, 1898.

The Metropolitan Opera staged the work for the first time on December 26. 1900 with Nellie Melba as Mimì, Annita Occhiolini-Rizzini as Musetta, Albert Saléza as Rodolfo, Giuseppe Campanari as Marcello.  Conducted by Luigi Mancinelli.


Boheme Opera NJ’s SYNOPSIS for its staging of LA BOHEME

Act I

Christmas Eve 2014, in the Paris loft apartment of four young men – Rodolfo, a struggling writer and copy editor; Marcello, an expressionistic painter; Schaunard, a passionate music teacher; and Colline, a philosopher with a passion for rare books – who remain kindred spirits and the best of friends long after graduate school. Schaunard who has been engaged, and well paid, for music lessons by an eccentric Englishman, details his afternoon’s adventures mostly to deaf ears, until the men hear his invitation to supper at Café Momus.  As they are about to depart, Benoit, their frequently intoxicated landlord, knocks at the door in search of rent money.  They flatter him at first, but pretend to be indignant when he boasts of an affair and chuck him out.  The others go off to the café while Rodolfo stays to finish an article.

After another knock at the door, Rodolfo finds the beautiful young Mimi in search of batteries for her flashlight. She collapses in a fit of coughing, but quickly revives and is eager to leave.  Her departure is delayed due to a missing key and Rodolfo monopolizes on a perfect set of circumstances. Mimi, charmed by the passionate defense of his art, describes her own simple profession: embroidery. The voices of Rodolfo’s friends call from outside. Rodolfo is overcome by Mimi’s free spirit, and after she asks, enthusiastically agrees to bring her to the café for a rousing evening. The couple shares their first kiss as they walk in the starlight to Momus.

Brief Pause

Act II

A busy square, near the Café Momus, finds last minute shoppers bargaining for Christmas gifts from the local vendors.  Through the noise, Colline finds the perfect second-hand coat, Schaunard tries out a battered horn and Mimi is the lucky recipient of a pink bonnet from Rodolfo.  Children, desperate for full stockings, beg their mothers to buy them the latest gadget from Parpignol. At the café, Rodolfo introduces Mimi to his friends and all start to order dinner when a commotion interrupts the proceedings and nearly spoils Marcello’s evening. Musetta enters, attended by Alcindoro, her oil-baron-man-of-the-week. Marcello and Musetta desperately and unsuccessfully try to ignore the other. Still, when flirting with every man in sight still doesn’t work, Musetta rids the scene of Alcindoro by pretending her shoe is pinching her foot. Marcello, ever ready to forgive her conniving ways, grabs her into his arms and into a passionate kiss. The bill for the liquor and endless appetizers causes a brief panic until Musetta insists the bill be lumped with hers and presented to Alcindoro.  The young lovers disappear into the packed crowd of Christmas revelers and rapping teens when Alcindoro returns to find he’s been hoodwinked once again.



A toll-gate on a road into Paris.  It is the cold of winter, and bells ring as guards allow women and street sweepers to pass on their way into town.  Mimi comes looking for Rodolfo and finds Marcello outside of a nearby inn.  He tells her he is busy painting, while Musetta gives music lessons.  Mimi confesses that Rodolfo is so insanely jealous she fears they must part, and her story is confirmed when Rodolfo gives his side of the story. He passionately explains that her coughing scares him and he simply doesn’t know how to help her.  Overhearing this confession weakens Mimi’s resolve and in a coughing fit alerts Rodolfo that she has been listening to their conversation, and he runs to her. Though their love is imperfect, Rodolfo and Mimi agree to continue trying, while Musetta and Marcello confirm their love with passionate bickering.


Act IV

Back in their flat, Rodolfo longs for Mimi, from whom he hasn’t heard, and Marcello for Musetta, who is thought to be off with yet another of her rich lovers. Schaunard arrives and turns the mood of the room around by pretending to serve a great feast complete with champagne and the best dining in Paris. Riotous boyhood fun is interrupted by Musetta, frantic with worry about Mimi, whom she has found half dead at the foot of the stairs.  Rodolfo brings her into the flat, and with the help of his friends, attempts to make her comfortable on the sofa. Seeing the weakness of her condition and desperate to help, Musetta gives Marcello her earrings to sell for medicine and Colline determines his beloved coat is best used to come to the aid of a friend.

Now alone, Mimi and Rodolfo remember the past and when they first met. Musetta and the others return, but Mimi is beyond help and she dies so quietly that Rodolfo is unaware.  As he realizes Mimi’s fate, surrounded by his grief-stricken friends, Rodolfo’s anguish is expressed in final, haunting calls of his beloved’s name, and he then collapses in grief.

Running Time:    2 hrs 30 min including two intermissions